Leading Scottish referee Kevin Clancy says he and his fellow officials are steeling themselves for being placed under the microscope in unprecedented fashion across the forthcoming season.
Clancy concedes that Celtic’s pursuit of an historic tenth consecutive title will see referees’ every call analysed tenfold but is confident that the game’s arbiters will be prepared to handle such an unforgiving glare.
The 36-year-old admits to regret not only that VAR will not be in operation for a campaign in which referees will undergo the ultimate trial by television – the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis likely to put that back for up to two years – but that for the opening months of the campaign there will be no supporters at stadiums to ensure officials maintain their intense focus.
“I can guarantee that the referees officiating in the Scottish Premiership know exactly what’s at stake this season,” said the Grade One official, on Fifa’s international list for almost eight years.
“We are under no illusion that every decision, in almost every game, is going to be scrutinised to a level that even you guys in the media probably haven’t seen for a long, long period of time.
“But the guys have been training hard, the guys are ready for the season that is about to start. We really do know what is at stake for the whole of the division.”
Despite the controversies created by the use of VAR in England, Clancy believes that it is unfortunate that Scotland will require to wait to apply its own form of the system.
Plans were being worked on to pilot VAR at the Scottish Cup semi-finals when these were scheduled for April, only for the shutdown the previous month to put paid to such a possibility.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s disappointing that there will be inevitable delays because of Covid and the economic situation,” said Clancy.
“I’m obviously the chief of the SSFRA and I have said before that I think Scottish football would benefit from VAR. I think Scottish refereeing would benefit from VAR. So all we can do is continue to work hard on finding solutions that suit the Scottish game and the economic realities we are facing at the minute. I can say for certain that all my colleagues at the top level fully support the introduction of VAR if we can get into a position to introduce it and implement it.”
Contrary to popular belief, Clancy also believes that referees benefit from having their every action judged harshly by hostile crowds of which there will be none as the top flight begins this weekend.
“From a refereeing perspective there shouldn’t be too much different given that we will still be applying the laws of the game the same way. But I think referees and players will find the intensity that surrounds the match, crowd noise, atmosphere, in many ways
runs the risk of having the feel of a friendly fixture,” he said.
“I would like to hope that won’t change the decision making. In a big game, with the crowd noise, you know you are under pressure and that every decision is being carefully scrutinised and it certainly keeps your concentration and focus up.
“I suppose a challenge for referees in empty stadiums will be making sure that because not very much seems to be happening that we don’t get lulled into a false sense of security and that the concentration levels and focus remains at the top
“But we are all human and it would be wrong of me to say crowd noise isn’t an important aspect of matches. Not having the crowd probably should make it easier because you don’t feel as if every decision is being booed.
“But it’s important for myself and the rest of the guys to ensure even though there’s no crowd there we are still bringing the levels of performance.
“When you are involved in big games it means a lot to players, to fans, and I think guys will thrive off the pressure. You have to up your game as there’s lots riding on it.
“Not having the crowd there will be disappointing and make the experience a little bit different.”
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